Several years ago, I holidayed on Maui with my kids. I call them kids, but they are really young adults. We all cycle, and wanted to do the West Maui Loop together – an epic, breathtaking, 100 km ride around the base of the smaller volcano. They are good enough to still want to cycle with me.
We didn’t take our bikes on this trip. We were only there for 10 days, and there were many other things we wanted to see, and do. So, we visited one of the local bike shops looking to rent road bikes. They had them. Carbon bikes all equipped with Ultegra compact cranksets (50-34). I was worried about the ride, and had been advised there were several short, but difficult climbs. I asked if they had a triple for rent. The owner smirked at me and said, “We find the compact is all most people usually need here.”.
A few days later, we returned with our pedals and shoes, rented the road bikes equipped with the compact cranksets, and off we went. This was my first experience with this setup. I had always ridden with race cranksets (54-39), even on the west coast. I thought that’s what good cyclists did. Push big gears. Thought that was how you got stronger, and faster. And when I had difficulty climbing, I just needed to train harder.
To my surprise, I enjoyed the West Maui Loop. The climbs weren’t as difficult as I imagined. The compact setup was more than adequate. I never felt like I needed a lower, or higher gear. I pedalled more easily, and for longer periods without tiring.
I’m not going to debate the relative benefits of the compact or race cranksets. Plenty has been written about them already. I will tell you that after I returned home, I installed compact setups on both of my road bikes. I climb more easily. I maintain a higher cadence with less effort. Travel as fast, if not faster than before. And, I ride longer without tiring. I completed a 40 km ride yesterday averaging 25-30 kph with little effort, all in Zone 1 (if you are familiar with heart rate training). The only time I may feel I need a higher gear is on long descents, and in those instances, I remind myself that 60 kph is fast enough.
It is the perfect setup for me. I live in a hilly, mountainous region. And, I like to ride most every day.
I’m just say’n 😉